Starting with six Irish Dexter cows in 2011, the herd has grown naturally as well as through purchases to 15 cows in 2014. Growing to between 20 and 30 cows over the next couple of years will bring the herd to a mostly Dexter group that should be well scaled for the farm’s size and need for flexibility.
If you’re not familiar with Dexter cattle, it’s worth a Google. They’re a small breed of cattle that have not had decades of genetic selection for gain on grain diets. They certainly do not fit the commercial market system but are doing well here. They are small cattle that do well on grass and have proven to be hardy.
One of qualities that makes them attractive from a customer point of view is that, because of their small size, the cuts of meat are also smaller. A mixed side of beef that’s got all of the steaks and roasts is a weight that may be 50% to 65% of what large breed commercial cattle would provide. All of the cuts that can be had – in portion sizes that are not obscenely large. If you really want a steak that hangs over the edges of a large plate, you may be better satisfied elsewhere.
The cattle are offered pasture or hay for their entire lives. They are offered salt blocks with trace minerals as well as access to a mineral supplement. Dried kelp and diatomateous earth are also offered periodically. They are not offered or given grain, implants or ionophores. Antibiotics are used only when necessary. Systemic dewormers are not used. These are not corn fed feedlot creatures. The cattle sent for processing and sold to customers are typically not more than 28 months old (ideally 19-22). They are entirely finished on grass.
For the 2017 calf crop, a Lowline angus bull was brought in. The goal in theory is to match the sizes of the bull and cow to keep a smaller frame cow with more beefy characteristics. Early maturing, grass loving, hardy, relaxed cattle is the goal – all in a package that is a few hundred pounds less than the commercial feedlot ideal.
While bottle feeding calves is a good experience for the kids, it’s not something to strive for. Ideally mom cows don’t neglect their calves – it should be a relatively hands off situation for us. In the fall of 2016, a number of dexter cows were culled from the herd. The main criteria for culling were mothering ability and temperament with a definite consideration to conformation.
In the fall of 2017, we purchased a registered Wagyu bull. If you’re not familiar with Wagyu, the images online of their steaks will make you hungry! A couple of Wagyu cross calves should be arriving in 2018 but the bulk will be in 2019. A portion of the cows were kept with a Lowline Angus bull and the rest with the Wagyu bull. Along with the goal above of early maturing, grass loving, hardy and relaxed – the Wagyu will hopefully add an extra kick to the marbling and eating experience!!